Collaboration Forum Series 4: Optimism in tough times (Week-10)


Collaboration Forum Series 4: Optimism in tough times (Week-10)

The Future of Business: Part 2: Challenge your Normal 

Do you still believe in your company’s purpose? How will your people work together in the future? How will you work with clients? Do you need an office? Our corporate values and our working environment are undergoing their biggest change in over a century – how will you seize the opportunities this presents? Dan Foley from Kier Group PLC, Søren Vestergaard from ISS World Services and Peter Richardson from Protiviti joined our collaboration forum to debate the future of work and challenge your normal. Watch recording now.


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Meet Our Inspiring Speakers


Dan Foley, Finance Shared Service Director

Formerly, member of World Shared Service Centre Publication Advisory Board. Dan is an award-winning senior professional and leader with over 20 years’ blue-chip experience in organisations with significant operational and organisational transformation. He is a dynamic problem-solver with the ability to generate ideas and problem-solve at a fast pace. Dan is also a great advocate of people development with experience of coaching and creation of individual and team dynamics across borders and cultures.


Søren Vestergaard, Head of Operational Services

Innovation, taking risks and rethinking strategy has been instrumental in Søren’s career. With more than two decades in finance, Søren is driven by strategic transformation journeys and organisational development. He has led turnarounds in the Middle East and Africa, through business continuity events such as the world's biggest malware attack in 2020. Currently, he leads the Finance standardisation program as a Group Director, for ISS.


Peter Richardson, Country Market Lead

Peter is a specialist in change management and operational transformation. He emphasises minimising risk while maximising value in business operations. He helps clients manage change that has been driven by regulatory matters, changes to risk management and control frameworks and financial performance. He takes a particular interest in the people dimension and specialises in behavioural risk and culture alongside large scale programme delivery and assurance.


Making hybrid real – creating the future that workers want

Hybrid working is set to become the new buzz phrase in business. But as companies navigate this fast-growing trend, they are still working out how to do it when Covid restrictions are lifted. Protiviti’s Collaboration Forum explored the experiences of cleaning multinational ISS and construction giant Keir Group.

Most people want to work this way

Everyone knows it, but now the data is starting to back up people’s hunches: the concept of hybrid working is gathering momentum fast. People’s professional lives have profoundly changed in the past year and most believe, in future, they will split their time between home and the office. According to a recent report from our sister company Robert Half, nearly 90 per cent believe this trend will become permanent.

As the pandemic begins to recede, companies are working hard to understand what this will mean for them. Behind the scenes, evidence suggests that many are planning to reduce their office space by around 30 per cent. They believe the new model will help them be more agile, offer better flexibility and work-life balance, and keep the best people on their teams. The past 12 months has demonstrated what they can do, and many are keen to accentuate the positives.

But that doesn’t mean the transition is going to be easy. Companies have developed their operations and cultures over long periods of time. Teams have bounced ideas around in person, and informal social contact remains key to wellbeing and innovation. True connection is easier when people are in the same room. Leaders have also acknowledged the challenges that virtual distance creates when new people are recruited.

Create security, belonging and influence

“It’s interesting looking at the research and there is no doubt we are going in that direction,” said Søren Vestergaard, finance director and head of operational services at ISS. “I’m asking each team to decide two days when they are together in the office, because we do need that collaboration. What we’re jokingly saying about the rest of the time, is that they can work two days from home, and one from their ‘summer home’. We’re acknowledging it’s fine to be somewhere else as well.

“I think existing teams are able to run with that, because everyone knows the landscape and the culture,” he added. “But when you’re bringing on new people who don’t know the culture, the process needs conscious effort. Leadership gets harder when people aren’t in the office. I don’t hear how people are at the end of their sentences, I don’t hear the sighs when they hang up the phone. It’s harder to be proactive. That’s something I miss and I’m trying to find a way to do it.”

Søren speaks passionately about what he does and the people that work for ISS. The Danish cleaning giant employs nearly 400,000 people across the world, and he is acutely aware of the large-scale change that is coming. Søren believes that however companies choose to adapt, they will need to consider what people really look for at work: security of employment, belonging, and the ability to influence – both the way they work, and the work they do.

Finding the balance for customers and employees

Dan Foley, finance shared services director at Kier Group, said the switch that companies make will depend on trusting, respecting and supporting their employees. He argued that if businesses don’t change, then they will consign themselves to history, because people will have a choice to work somewhere else. They will have greater flexibility to become part of the ‘anywhere workforce’, and find jobs that have been out of reach, until now. But he also suggested this evolution should consider the needs of customers and clients as well.

“Why wasn’t all of this happening before? Why were all these industries mandating that people get up early and drive through traffic to get to the office? It was down to trust,” he said. “But now absenteeism has gone through the floor, sickness has done the same, because people feel happy. Office workers have got to tell leaders what they want; and on the other side, leaders have got to determine what they want, when they think about servicing customers.”

Søren added that finding the balance between what employees and businesses want is a tough nut to crack. But he encouraged people to look inward at the dynamics between the two. On the surface it appears that more power sits with the employer. But, like Dan Foley, the research from Robert Half suggests that people will gravitate towards workplaces that give them what they are looking for. Søren described a pre-Covid situation at ISS, where people had turned down jobs, because they couldn’t work at home five days a week. The money couldn’t convince them, but the way of working might have done.

“At ISS, we don’t have a patent, we don’t have the Covid vaccines, we don’t own an oil field,” he said. “We employ people who do something that everyone else knows how to do, which is cleaning. There is no proprietary technology; the only value we have is in our culture and our leadership. And I think we need to work with those two values as we have conversations about the future.”

Now is the time for experimentation

It’s interesting that for many business leaders, the way they adapt to hybrid working will be informed by their culture. Working through the pandemic has taught a lot of them the value of purpose, and the importance of wellbeing and mental health. If employees are happy and supported, they are more likely to do a good job, of course. But the way companies achieve this new model and keep people happy is an ongoing debate.

Peter Richardson, the outgoing country market lead for Protiviti UK, is embarking on a global initiative helping the business and its clients navigate the future of work. He said that businesses were entering a period of experimentation and called on people to be bold in the face of this new opportunity. He also suggested that Søren’s framework of security, belonging, and influence could be supported if offices played a more specific role.

“I heard the head of marketing at Mars talk about a ‘five Cs’ model for the use of offices: connection, collaboration, celebration, creative ideation, and compassion,” he said. “I really like that. Those are the reasons we have to physically work together. They are things that underpin our culture, and they all make sense. But thinking about how we actually achieve them means there’s an awful lot to work through. There are a lot of ideas to develop.”

Søren said that ISS was focussed on a matrix of behaviours to help support the transition to a hybrid model. On one side of a chart, he showed behaviours people were keen to develop and keep, such as working away from the office, and virtual team building. These were complemented by what people wanted to go back to, such as critical business travel and teambuilding in person. But the things they didn’t want, such as regular commuting and non-critical business travel, would also help to focus attention as well.

For now, business leaders are alive to the opportunity, and working out their strategies. They believe hybrid working is the future and they recognise this is how most people want to work. It’s not the same for everyone, of course, because some industries just can’t ‘work from home’. But it’s striking how this new model is being both accepted and embraced in principle. This period of experimentation will reveal more about how hybrid working will happen in practice. And it’s a journey that businesses will go on together as they embark on the next chapter.


To read more about the research mentioned in this article click on the special report from Robert Half: ‘Demand For Skilled Talent in the Evolving COVID-19 Landscape’. Eighty-nine per cent of people, from a sample of 60,000, believe hybrid working will become permanent. In the long term, 70 per cent of those said they would prefer to work between their home and the office. Only 8 per cent said they would like to go back to the office full time. The game has well and truly changed.

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peter richardson
Peter Richardson
Country Market Lead
Paul Middleton
Paul Middleton
Managing Director